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March 12, 2014

Ohio Supreme Court explains how Miller is to be applied in discretionary juve LWOP system

The Ohio Supreme Court this morning handed down a lengthy split decision in Ohio v. Long, No. . 2014-Ohio-849 (March 12, 2014) (available here), which explain how the Eighth Amendment rules in Miller, which only formally declare conconstitutional a mandatory juve LWOP sentencing scheme, are to be applied in a system that already gave sentencing judges discretion in cases in which juve killers were made eligible for an LWOP sentence. Here is the start and some additional excerpts from the majority opinion: 

In this case, we are asked whether a trial court violates the Eighth Amendment by imposing a sentence of life imprisonment without parole for an aggravated murder committed by a juvenile.  We hold that a court, in exercising its discretion under R.C. 2929.03(A), must separately consider the youth of a juvenile offender as a mitigating factor before imposing a sentence of life without parole in light of Miller v. Alabama, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012)....

As applied to a juvenile found guilty of aggravated murder under R.C. 2929.03(A), then, Ohio’s sentencing scheme does not fall afoul of Miller, because the sentence of life without parole is discretionary.  Nor is our criminal procedure flawed under Graham and Miller by failing to take into account that a defendant is a youthful offender.  Nevertheless, for clarification we expressly hold that youth is a mitigating factor for a court to consider when sentencing a juvenile.  But this does not mean that a juvenile may be sentenced only to the minimum term.  The offender’s youth at the time of the offense must still be weighed against any statutory consideration that might make an offense more serious or an offender more likely to recidivate.  Yet because a life-without-parole sentence implies that rehabilitation is impossible, when the court selects this most serious sanction, its reasoning for the choice ought to be clear on the record....

Although Miller does not require that specific findings be made on the record, it does mandate that a trial court consider as mitigating the offender’s youth and attendant characteristics before imposing a sentence of life without parole.  For juveniles, like Long, a sentence of life without parole is the equivalent of a death penalty.  Miller, 132 S.Ct. at 2463, 183 L.Ed.2d 407.  As such, it is not to be imposed lightly, for as the juvenile matures into adulthood and may become amenable to rehabilitation, the sentence completely forecloses that possibility...

The United States Supreme Court has indicated in Roper, Graham, and Miller that juveniles who commit criminal offenses are not as culpable for their acts as adults are and are more amenable to reform. We agreed with this sentiment in In re C.P., 131 Ohio St.3d 513, 2012-Ohio-1446, 967 N.E.2d 729.  Miller did not go so far as to bar courts from imposing the sentence of life without the possibility of parole on a juvenile.  Yet because of the severity of that penalty, and because youth and its attendant circumstances are strong mitigating factors, that sentence should rarely be imposed on juveniles.  Miller, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. at 2469, 183 L.Ed.2d 407.  In this case, the trial court must consider Long’s youth as mitigating before determining whether aggravating factors outweigh it.

March 12, 2014 at 10:26 AM | Permalink

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